Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Shabazz Muhammad commits to UCLA

Not since Jrue Holiday in 2008 and Kevin Love in 2007 has UCLA been able to sign the consensus best player at their position, if not the best overall player in the country.  This year, with the live ESPNU announcement that Shabazz Muhammad has decided for the Bruins, UCLA once again has a spectacular recruiting class for the first time in 4 years.  Shabazz is clearly the top perimeter scorer in the country, pouring in just under 30 points a game this season.  At 6-5, he can play either SG or SF for us.  Kyle Anderson, an early commit and a persuasive recruiter in his own right, is possibly the best PG in the country, although he is actually rated the best SF by (who has SM has a SG).  All I know, is that the #5 PG Dominic Artis in the country immediately de-committed from UCLA when Kyle announced.

Now we know that bad behavior from much of the highly touted recruiting class of '08 (Gordon, Morgan, Anderson) and one of the best players from '09 (Nelson) essentially torpedoed our program, but I'm not worried about those kind of antics from this year's class.  Based on Muhammad's reputation for having a professional approach and single-minded focus on his basketball career as well as the fact that Kyle flourished under tough coaching from St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley, I'd expect a hard-working and focused mindset from our freshmen stars next season.

From what I've seen in the McDonald's All-American game, Shabazz doesn't have the elite athleticism like a Lebron or Westbrook.  However, he is a definitely an above-average athlete (good enough to win the HS slam dunk title though I thought UK's Goodwin deserved it instead) and clearly has an arsenal of offensive skill that we obviously lack.  There is no question he ought to start and will probably lineup at SF for us.

If you asked me even a year ago about how I felt about one-and-done's like Shabazz, you would have gotten a lukewarm reaction out of me.  But with the success of Kevin Love and Jrue Holiday in the L, the lack of our success the last few years in comparison with Calipari's 1-and-done's, and the fact that we needed a boost after the lows of this season, I've changed my mind.  Getting Shabazz was a monumental moment for us.  It was a highly anticipated ESPN live broadcast event and UCLA was the main story to lead it off.  If Shabazz had his pick of any of the heavyweights including UK, UNC, Duke and KU, and he picked UCLA, so can any big-time recruit in the future.

I know that Shabazz is leaving after one year and I'm expecting it.  I think its different than Kevin Love or Jrue Holiday's early departure simply because I thought both made the wrong decision to leave early.  Clearly I was incredibly wrong about Love since I thought his glory days could only be in college.  Holiday would easily have made the lottery had he stayed but with the shenanigans going on in the program at the time, I can't blame him too much.  With Shabazz however, he comes across as an admitted mercenary who will undoubtedly give it his all during his single season here.  At least he better.  Kyle Anderson, on the other hand, looks like he should stay at least an additional season or two.

He lacks the explosive athleticism of NBA athletes (they don't call him Slo Mo for nothing) but makes up for it with his 6-8 length, incredible ball-handling skill and court vision.  It will be most interesting to see how Howland deploys him.  With both our current PGs graduating, it will be between Anderson and UNC transfer Drew for the starting job.

Any chance for our other highly-rated recruit, Jordan Adams, to start is probably gone now with Muhammad in the fold.  However, his scoring ability will undoubtedly be an asset off the bench.

The only other recruit that we are rumored to still be in the running for is 6-8 PF/C Tony Parker from Georgia.  I must admit that I am not too high on him.  He looks overweight, unpolished offensively and indecisive off the court (his list of schools are growing?!?).  I hope he doesn't have a highly inflated opinion of himself if he comes here, because I don't think there's anyway that he starts over Josh or the Wear twins, who have been in Howland's system for 2 years already.  Not to say that I don't want Parker, but he better be willing to be patient and work.  Maybe I'm just dreading a clone of the unmotivated version of Josh Smith.  If he comes with the right attitude, we will have the type of recruiting class that we should always get. 

Starting Lineup:

PG: Kyle Anderson
SG: Tyler Lamb
SF: Shabazz Muhammad
PF: David Wear
F/C: Travis Wear

Bench: C Josh Smith, PG Larry Drew, SG Norman Powell, G/F Jordan Adams, C Anthony Stover

2 deep at every position, not bad at all.  I suppose Larry Drew, who is basically a 5th year athlete, has the experience to start as well.  If he does, I'd expect Shabazz to slide over to SG and Kyle to start at SF.  That would be mind-blowing, if we have 3 new perimeter starters.  But after last season, maybe change is good.

The fact remains that we had a bad season last year because we were the anti-Kentucky - we had no obvious NBA talent on our roster.  Howland went out and fixed that problem in Shabazz.

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